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There are many attributes that should be taken into consideration in order to assign a value to an individual pearl. We will talk about these and give you the information you require in order to make a good selection.

A Pearl's Value Attributes

1) Size

As In the case of many other gemstone: the bigger its size is, the greater its value. Depending on the type of jewelry you plan to use, small pearls are more adequate than large ones for -let's say- rings and studs.

Larger sizes are less abundant so they are able to command a much better price. Once a pearl attains a size of 10 mm it can command a higher price, but there are other breakpoints as well: 12, 14, 18 and 20 mm. This means that the price of a pearl may as well double from the size previous to that break point.

Chose the size of the pearl depending on your needs and budget. When looking for a 10 mm pearl, selecting a 9.9 mm pearl is a great choice because you do not pay the increase in price and yet it looks basically the same.

2) Luster/Lustre

This is an attribute you should take seriously into consideration when purchasing a pearl. A pearl's luster is the warm, silky, glow of the pearl. But do not confuse luster with "shine". A polished piece of steel is very shinny, but it is not lustrous.

Pearl Luster
Of course, the higher the luster of the pearl, the more valuable it becomes.


3) Orient/Overtones

This is one of the most beautiful effects found on a pearl, and the hardest one to explain or describe. This effect is given -in part- by the pearl's nacre thickness, its spiraled surface and the quality of its nacreous (Aragonite) crystals.

Explanation of Orient Overtones - Iridescence on Pearls
This visual effect is seen as a series of concentric rings of deepening color. Sometimes it looks like a "halo" surrounding the outer diameter of the pearl. A pearl with such an effect will never be mistaken as a fake-pearl nor as a freshwater pearl, and it is highly coveted.

Cortez Pearls with Beautiful Overtones
The word "orient" is attached to this effect in lieu of a centuries old fact. To the Romans -who loved these Gems- pearls came from two different sources: freshwater pearls (harvested from European rivers and lakes) and "Oriental Pearls" that were imported from the Middle-East (the "Orient" for Romans).
To the Romans, "Oriental Pearls" came mostly from the Persian Gulf and sometimes even from Asian countries...and those were mostly saltwater pearls.

4) Shape

Truly 100% round shaped pearls are much more difficult to obtain, thus they command a much higher prize. Only from 5 to 25% of a pearl harvest come out round to semi-round in shape.

Different Pearl Shapes

So, a round shape takes first place in value, followed by "off-round" (about 2-5% of the pearl's shape is not-round), semi-baroque (symmetrical shapes: drops, buttons, ovals) and finally baroques (asymmetrical pearls).

Semi baroque pearls are highly coveted in some countries, especially in the drop shapes, where they are known as "cabochons", "teardrops" or "pears". They are very popular in drop-style jewelry and used mainly in pendants and earrings.

Baroque pearls do not have a definitive shape, being always irregular in their skin/surface, coloring and appearance. Baroque pearls are very unique, so they can give a more natural look to jewelry.

Baroque Pearls

So, as you can see, many pearl shapes exist, but people tend to identify a pearl as being "round". This is due to the fact that the Japanese were the World's leading suppliers of cultured pearls (today, the main producer of pearls is China), and they are able to produce many round pearls thanks to:

  • The fact that they have a very high production of cultured pearls: around 20 metric tons of Akoya pearls per year, thus they have a higher chance at obtaining more rounds. 
  • They have very good seeding technicians: and these play an important role in pearl quality. 
  • They grow their cultured pearls from 4 to 8 months only: this does not allow their pearls to "deviate" from the nuclei's round shape.

5) Skin Purity/Surface Defects

This attribute is also known as the "Cleanliness" of the pearl. As it can be expected: the lesser the number of imperfections on the surface of the pearl, the higher its value.

Cortez Pearls are only available in the following grades:

  1. Gem
  2. A and
  3. B

An "A" grade pearl has 1 to 3 small defects (less than 10% of its area) a "B" grade has anywhere between 3 and 7 small imperfections (10-33% of its area). A "Gem" grade pearl should not have any defects, as expected.

Cortez Semibaroque Gem grade Pearls

It is fairly common for a pearl to have surface defects. After all, a pearl is a living creation, not a cold hard stone dug from the Earth. One should allow for defects in a pearl, just as we allow leather goods to have skin markings, without which they would look just like plastic.


Some common surface defects:

a. Missing Nacre:

This defect resembles an "animal bite" on many occasions. It is caused by a secretory problem in the mantle (patches of cells within the pearl sac become abnormal and cannot secrete nacre, or will produce calcite instead). If this defect appears on a large proportion (over 30%) of the pearl, it should be considered a reject.

Pearl Imperfections

b. Spots/Protein Deposition:

These spots appear when there are secretory problems in the mantle (patches of cells within the pearl sac become abnormal and cannot secrete nacre, and will produce protein instead). These “spots” not only make the pearl look less appealing, but they may also indicate other structural problems...try to avoid these pearls.

c. Waves/Undulations:

Some people do not consider these to be a problem or defect, but consider them more like a natural pattern, as seen on many baroque pearls. Anyway, since the surface of the pearl appears to be disjoined (surface reflection or luster is diminished), the value of the pearl is lessened.

d. Other Defects

Cracks, peel-offs and deep bruises (mechanical scars) are not considered to be natural flaws. These are serious defects that turn pearls into junk. A pearl with a crack (or even a fissure) is damaged to a point where it will break apart. Pearls that loose some of their covering (usually, this only happens to thinly covered cultured pearls) will crack and expose their nucleus.